As a member of Willow Creek Community Church, I have been devastated and heartbroken as I have read the stories of many women regarding sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of our former senior pastor Bill Hybels. It has been a shocking, difficult few months as newspaper article after newspaper article and blog after blog have been published. We are broken, as individuals and as a church.
I believe we have finally begun to take the correct steps toward healing and rebuilding. This will take a long time, but I am hopeful. It does sadden and anger me it has taken this long to occur, but I can do nothing about this now. I wrote a letter to our elder board early on when things came out, used my voice, and shared what I thought should occur. I have prayed to and begged God to help and guide individuals and us, as a church, especially the leaders with authority. I will continue to speak up as I feel compelled and led.
While there are systems, structures and cultural issues to address, I feel compelled to address something else in this post: the hearts of the people of Willow Creek Community Church.
If you are a mom or a dad or a caregiver of children, you are familiar with the cry and shriek of a small child when they fall and hurt themselves. Scrapes and cuts are a right of passage in childhood. Our personality type and our parenting style will determine the speed and tone with which we react. But no matter what, if someone young we love is hurt we come to them, diagnose the situation, and determine next steps. Do they need a kiss and hug, a band-aid and ointment, or a trip to the ER? With six kiddos, 5 of them of the boy variety, we have had our fair share of all levels of wounds. One of the latest required a trip to the ER and 5 staples to the head.
Our 7 year old twin boys were playing a game outside. An argument about rules and winning ensued which escalated to a physical fight. This was brought into the house as a tornado of sorts. Before I knew what was happening, Dylan came to me screaming and crying. He had been pushed by his brother into the corner of the dining room table. With blood gushing, my adrenaline pumped and I put on my mommy-nurse hat. (which is not a very good role for me–admittedly, I am not the greatest in these situations. Usually with lots of blood I freak the freak out.) I tried to stay calm for him and tried to look carefully at his wound; but it was difficult to see and examine because of the amount of blood. How deep is this wound? What is the damage? After we pressed and pressed and I moved his hair out of the way; I was certain a trip to the ER was in order. All the while, I reassured him he was going to be okay. Every single time I see a doctor to help me or my children I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for people with expertise, tools, and experience to help heal us. People who help us determine what is needed for healing are a gift. A few hours later, after the wound was flushed, examined, numbed, stapled, and lathered with ointment, we were on our way home to heal.
Willow, we are broken and wounded as a church, but also, as individuals. For each of us, our wounds are a little different depending on how long we have been at Willow; how much influence Bill has had on our life; how we may have been mistreated or abused by someone else in our lives; or how high we may have had Bill up on a pedestal, just to name a few. We need to allow for these differences as we process and move through this mess.
As I was praying and reading the other day, God lead me to Matthew 5, verse 4,
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
One thing I have learned to do over the years to help me–when I do not know everything, when certain things are out of my control, and when I am not sure how things are going to turn out–is to think about and ask what I do know and what God has promised. I begin to lean into those things. One thing we can know for sure: we will be comforted.
But we must let God come to us and examine the wound. Just as sure as I am living and breathing right now, I believe God will help determine where we need healing. It starts with our mourning and ends with his comfort. He promises to comfort us.
I have experienced this process in my own past in a profound way. God knew I needed more healing and restoration around something that happened to me when I was younger. I was sexually assaulted by someone I knew and loved. There had been previous healing of the top layers. Something was done to me against my will. I worked through forgiveness at the level I could, closer to the time it happened. But later resentment, despise, and judgement showed up in my life. All signs pointed to unhealed wounds.
More recently, I discussed some of this with my counselor and he affirmed a truth I had not previously understood: drunkenness by either of us did not negate the fact I was sexually assaulted. It was still sexual trauma. My wound was named more clearly. This alone brought more healing to my soul. When we name hurt more accurately, fresh layers of healing can come. For me, God wasn’t done healing just yet. Months later I attended a worship gathering led by Jesus Culture, a group of musicians, artists, and singers from California, where something extraordinary happened. I believe God gave me a vision, so real and deep to me, but not a physical thing, which is hard to articulate. With eyes closed, as I sang the words from my heart to the God I love, the picture came:
I was in the middle of a battlefield (think Braveheart) on the ground, injured, bleeding out. The skies were dark, grey and dark purple mixed with a few flickers of white. There was chaos around me, hand to hand combat the field over. It was a wide open, large field. Then he came. In the deepest part of my soul I knew it was Jesus. I couldn’t see his face clearly. But he came on a white horse (think the book of Revelation in the Bible, Rev. 6:2 and Rev. 19:11). He got down off his horse and tended to my wounds. He pressed on my wound to stop the bleeding. He cared for me and came to my aid.
And just like that, the field and Jesus were gone, but the experience seared love and healing onto my soul. Jesus comforted me and I was changed.
You know the word from the Matthew verse I mentioned previously “comforted?” In the Greek it is the combination of two words, “para” and “kaleo.” Para means “to the side of.” And kaleo means “to aid, help, comfort, encourage.” This word “comforted” is not a mushy, hope you feel better kind of word. This is an action “which is intended to produce a particular effect; comfort, exhort, desire, call for, beseech.” When Jesus comforts us, something changes. We are different. Jesus heals wounds, friends. He does. One of the reasons I am filled with hope during these dark times at Willow is because of what he has done for me. I know what Jesus can do.
As a mother goes to her child and does what it takes to cause the healing of her son, so Jesus comes to us, Willow, and does what it takes to cause the healing of us.
You have permission to be wherever you are. The grief process has twists and turns which can not always be anticipated. Consider where you are in the process. As we are sad and we mourn, lament, and weep over what has happened, ask God to comfort you. Ask him to help you name your wounds more accurately. Is it betrayal, deception, or something else? Let God and others in your community who care for you help you name it. And let God come.
He will comfort us, this I know for sure.